308th & 309th Meetings (AM & PM)

Opening 2024 Session of Special Charter Committee, Speakers Diverge on Sanctions, Self-Defence, Working Methods and World Court’s Role

Speakers disagreed on sanctions, the rules governing self-defence, the role of the International Court of Justice and the work of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization as that Committee opened its 2024 session with a spirited debate on how to best implement the Organization’s founding document.

Since its establishment, the United Nations’ mission and work have been guided by the purposes and principles contained in its Charter, adopted in 1945 and amended three times — in 1963, 1965 and 1973.  The Special Committee is mandated to examine proposals regarding the Charter and the strengthening of the role of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security, the development of cooperation among all nations and the promotion of the rules of international law.  It holds annual sessions, and its membership is open to all Member States.

As in previous years, delegates expressed differing views on a number of procedural and substantive issues, from the role of the Special Committee to the most effective means for maintaining international peace.  Much of the discussion hinged on Article 51 of the Charter, which pertains to the inherent right of self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member State of the United Nations.

Mexico’s delegate spotlighted the increasing number of letters to the Security Council invoking that right, as well as new interpretations classifying the protection of commercial vessels as defence.  When States inform the Council of such invocations, this is not followed by a substantive debate, and the international community lacks a forum for a broad legal analysis of these invocations, he said.  Drawing attention to the proposal tabled by his delegation in 2018 for analysing the implementation of Article 51, he said that it aims to promote a legal — not political — discussion on this matter. This is an opportunity to fill a gap, he emphasized, adding that there is no justification for preventing the Special Committee from examining this proposal. 

The representative of Venezuela, who spoke for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, expressed concern about the lack of consensus among members of the Special Committee.  Further, the Charter is being undermined in numerous ways, he said, pointing to attacks against multilateralism, claims of “non-existent exceptionalism” and attempts to replace the Charter’s principles with a new set of “rules” without any discussion.  Highlighting the unwillingness of some Member States to engage with proposals put forward by other delegates, he stressed that the promise of the United Nations Charter should not leave anyone behind — least of all the people of Palestine. 

On that, several delegates referred to the Council’s inability to adopt a resolution earlier in the day calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.  The representative of Tunisia, who spoke for the Arab Group, said this is morally troubling and affects the credibility of the entire Organization.  Israel’s genocidal war on the Palestinians in Gaza demonstrates flagrant disrespect for international law, he said, highlighting that country’s “de-crediblizing” of the reports coming from different UN agencies and Special Rapporteurs.  This reinforces the impression that the UN Charter applies in some cases but not in others, he emphasized.

“Where were all those who wish to defend the Charter on October 7?” asked the representative of Israel, who said that the concept of international peace and security has been exploited to justify hateful rhetoric and bigotry.  The United Nations should not give impunity to a terrorist organization and allow it to hide behind lofty resolutions with no accountability whatsoever, he stressed.  He added that international courts — instead of being a mechanism to foster dialogue — have been misused as a tool to advance narrow political agendas.

However, South Africa’s delegate said that the International Court of Justice’s role has become even more crucial as disregard of the Charter becomes rampant.  Recalling its 26 January order determining that Israel’s actions in Gaza are plausibly genocidal, she highlighted the call for provisional measures, including that Israel shall take all measures within its power to prevent all acts of genocide.  Despite this ruling, that country has been relentless in its commission of genocide against the Palestinian people, she said, calling on the Security Council to ensure Israel’s compliance with the Court’s ruling.

Iran’s delegate, who spoke for the Non-Aligned Movement, also commended the Court’s role and urged the Council and other organs to make greater use of it as a source of advisory opinions and interpretations of relevant norms.  Further, she highlighted the humanitarian consequences of sanctions and their negative impact on basic living conditions and socioeconomic development in the target State, as well as in third States.  “Sanctions are blunt instruments,” she emphasized, adding that their use raises fundamental ethical questions and that they should be imposed as a last resort only when there exists a threat to international peace. 

Along similar lines, the representative of Eritrea questioned the motivations behind unilateral coercive measures, condemning those who employ human-rights rhetoric as a pretext for endangering peace, development and those same rights.  A State’s freedom to impose economic measures is limited by the target State’s freedom to govern its own internal affairs.  Therefore, coercively seeking to change a State’s policy constitutes interference in its internal affairs and thus an unlawful exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction, he added. 

However, the representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, said that UN sanctions are an important tool under the Charter with which to maintain international peace and security without recourse to the use of force.  Stressing that sanctions adopted outside UN auspices do not fall within the Special Committee’s scope, she urged reconsideration of any attempts to discuss them in that forum.  Autonomous restrictive measures are a legitimate tool of foreign and security policy, she added.  Further, many of the proposals on the Special Committee’s agenda are duplicative of efforts made elsewhere, she said, calling for its work and working methods to be streamlined. 

The representative of Ukraine, who also spoke for Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, said that “our three countries share the grim experience of having their sovereignty and territorial integrity violated by the same UN Member State”.  She highlighted the cases filed by the three countries against the Russian Federation in various judicial bodies, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights.  Despite mediation, diplomatic initiatives and judicial efforts, the Russian Federation’s troops are still illegally stationed on the territories of the Republic of Moldova and Georgia — even as Moscow launched its full-scale military aggression against Ukraine in February 2022 — she pointed out.

The representative of the United States also condemned the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine while defending Council sanctions as an important instrument for the maintenance of international peace.  As for sanctions implemented outside the Organization’s auspices, those are not the focus of the Special Committee’s work, she said, while adding that they are a legitimate means with which to achieve foreign-policy and security objectives.  Expressing her delegation’s reservations regarding various proposals, she said that all new proposals should be practical and non-political.  In particular, Mexico’s proposal concerning Article 51 is better addressed in other forums, she said.  Further, the Special Committee must improve its productivity and make the best use of the Secretariat’s resources by considering biannual meetings or shortened sessions, she added. 

However, expressing support for Mexico’s proposal, the representative of the Russian Federation said that the situations in the Middle East and the Red Sea raise an entire array of issues in the context of Article 51.  These include the unlawful justification of self-defence by an occupying Power, as well as the use of Article 51 to ensure freedom of navigation.  It is necessary to clarify the legal framework governing the use of force, he said.  He also highlighted the damage caused by unilateral coercive measures, which are often used to facilitate the collective West’s regime-change ambitions.

In other business, the Committee elected Michael Hasenau (Germany) as its Chair; Nathaniel Khng (Singapore), Matúš Košuth (Slovakia) and David Antonio Giret Soto (Paraguay) as Vice-Chairs; and Gloria Dakwak (Nigeria) as Rapporteur.  The Committee also adopted the session’s provisional agenda (document A/AC.182/L.163).

For information media. Not an official record.